How does a first (and perhaps final) season of television like Watchmen’s come to an end? With beauty, grace, batshit comic book plot twists, and a reminder that nothing ever ends even when it seems as if everything’s drawing to a close.
Watchmen’s first season was like a mechanical watch with jewel movements: an intricate piece of artwork deftly assembled by master craftspeople that was both meant to be admired by those who saw it and to serve a larger, more important purpose. At times, it felt as if Watchmen might have needed a little bit of tuning up to getting it running on time, but once the series found its stride, it wasted no time meticulously laying out each of its delicate, narrative components, and then piecing them together in order to create a rich story.
If you know what you’re looking at as it’s being built, it’s easy to guess that a watch is going to be a watch when it’s finished. But like Lady Trieu’s Millennium Clock, Watchmen was the kind of timepiece (in a spiritual sense) whose form, function, and meaning only fully became clear in “See How They Fly,” the season finale. If you were paying attention throughout this season, most of the episode’s twists were far from shocking, but that ends up being a wonderful thing because this story was never really about the guessing game.
After back-to-back episodes that jumped around through time in order to give you a sense of how strange Angela Abar and Doctor Manhattan’s perceptions of it have been, the final returns to a more linear mode of storytelling with one last, very important origin story. Beneath her many layers of luxurious, white clothing, Lady Trieu has been swathed in a purposeful, enigmatic energy that was a step above merely being shrouded in mystery. To her credit, Lady Trieu was almost always forthcoming with her reasons for coming to Tulsa because very much like the devastatingly brilliant mastermind who came before her, she explicitly wanted to be recognised for her genius.
But before all of her grand proclamations about saving the world from racist madmen, Trieu, like all of us, began her existence as two, microscopic, individual cells that were brought together by fate and chance. After Watchmen revealed that Trieu’s daughter Bian was actually her clone (who she’d been gradually feeding memories of her past life via nostalgia), there was much speculation as to who her father was.
It was interesting to consider whether Trieu might have been fathered by the Comedian during his blood-soaked tour through Vietnam, which would have made her Laurie Blake’s half-sister, but “See How They Fly” dismisses that theory by instead showing us the precise moment when Trieu was conceived—the very same moment that Ozymandias first recorded his message to future president Robert Redford.
It’d be functionally impossible for a supervillain to run an entire evil lair like Ozymandias’ without assistance and since Veidt was never exactly the type to build robot helpers, it turns out that his fortress in Antarctica was actually staffed by a number of Vietnamese refugees who fled the 51st state following its annexation by the US. The original Bian (older than the clone version and played by Elyse Dinh here) happened to be one of Ozymandias’ employees, and because he was always a man too blinded by his own egotism to recognise the feelings of others, he never understood just how much she hated him.
During Ozymandias’ recording, Bian sneaks into his study, swiftly breaks into his computer, and with a few keystrokes, she reveals a hidden store of semen he kept for purposes which are never explained. In that moment, Ozymandias’ doomsday plan vaguely echoes the dreams of Jeffrey Epstein’s, the monster who once hoped to use his DNA to impregnate multiple women he wanted to relocate and keep on his massive, remote ranch in New Mexico.
Whether Ozymandias was at all interested in eugenics is unclear, and he may have merely wanted to harvest samples of himself in order to conduct genetic research, but Bian’s plans for the sample of his semen that she steals is obvious. With hate in her heart and vengeance on her mind, Bian inseminates herself with Ozymandias’ semen, and as fucked up as the entire scene is, it also suggests the fascinating idea that everything we’ve seen of Trieu’s talent for longterm plotting and treachery is something she inherited from both of her parents, and not just her father.
While we don’t see any of Trieu’s upbringing, the episode implies that Bian told her daughter every single thing she learned about Veidt while working for him. Because by 2008, a then adult Trieu makes her way down to Antarctica to knock on her father’s door and let him know that she knows he’s the one who gave birth to the squid that destroyed New York City. Since Ozymandias is a narcissist who only ever wanted to be loved for what he did for the world, Trieu knowing of his greatest work immediately endears her to him and he has no issue inviting her in for tea and filling her in on the baby squid storms.
Though Trieu recognises the man’s brilliance, she also expressed the belief that he’s begun thinking too small and she describes it as a “rerun” of what he’d done two decades previously. Trieu’s line here is an obvious wink at the audience and people who believed that Lindelof’s Watchmen would never compare to Moore and Gibbons’ work, but it’s also her subtly warning her father about how much more dangerous she is than he ever was.
Trieu explains that unlike almost everyone else in existence, she knows that Manhattan wasn’t actually on Mars at the time, and she intends to confirm his exact location so she can remotely destroy him and steal his powers for herself. If the world refuses to save itself, Trieu wants to with Manhattan’s godlike powers, and here the finale flirts with the idea that everything the Seventh Kavalry has been working on is actually a plan of Trieu, and perhaps Ozymandias’, design.
What Trieu wants from Veidt is the necessary funding to make her plans a reality, but when she reveals to him that she’s his daughter, he rebuffs the young woman, insisting that she needs to pull herself up by her bootstraps and know that he’ll never recognise her as his child.
During their conversation, Trieu mentions that a deep space probe of her’s is scheduled to take a series of photos of Europa about five years from the future, and the episode establishes that as rude as he was, Veidt took his daughter’s words to heart long before Manhattan ever gifted him with a paradise full of loving slaves. The message the old man was spelling out on the surface of the moon with dead corpses didn’t just read “SAVE ME,” it would have fully read “SAVE ME, DAUGHTER,” meaning that after living year in exile, Ozymandias finally came around to accepting that Trieu was part of his legacy, and she’d outclassed him.
And right on cue, at the exact moment Trieu planned, a defeated Ozymandias sitting in his jail cell is astonished to witness a Trieu-brand spacecraft descend upon the manor’s lawn, and he knows that his daughter’s received his message. Having dug himself an escape tunnel, Ozymandias strides in full regalia to the ship of his salvation, only to be accosted by the Game Warden who warns that he’ll shoot should his master attempt to leave.
Ozymandias has no intention of staying, and so he keeps walking, and true to his word, the Game Warden shoots him on sight. But Ozymandias is a man who can catch bullets, and in a moment echoing the original Watchmen comics, he does just that before faking the Game Warden out and killing the man.
As the Game Warden lies dying in his arms, it’s made clear that everything on the manor—from the Game Warden to the trail he was put on by the clones—was essentially just a game for Ozymandias, who’d grown nostalgic for the good old days of playing cops and robbers with the Minutemen. God complex though he has, Ozymandias misses people, and he’s got to get back to Earth.
Sadly, the clones are helpless to do anything but look on and see their master off. As the ship flies away, Ozymandias is surprised to see that it’s unmanned and seemingly unfinished save for a human-shaped device that he’s instructed to settle into. Before he has a chance to figure out what it is, the thing begins spraying him with a golden substance that freezes him like Han Solo in Carbonite. Yes, that statue of Ozymandias that Trieu’s been keeping in her study has actually been the real thing this whole time.
In the present, moments before Trieu unfreezes her father, she tries to explain to Bian who and what she really is, but the young girl knows, and is unfazed by it. Though Ozymandias is absolutely horrified when he realises what his daughter’s done to her mother.
But the time for Trieu’s grand plan has come, and she quickly proceeds with her plan to capture Manhattan, who’s still being held by Senator Keene, the rest of the 7K, and a gathering of other statesmen who assembled to watch the white supremacist become a god. A still very tied-up Laurie is alarmed when one of her Rorschach-masked guards actually turns out to be Looking Glass in disguise, and the pair are even more taken aback when Cal, naked and blue, is forcibly teleported into the massive metal cage they’re standing in front of.
While Angela’s busy torturing a 7K member to figure out where they’ve taken Cal, Keene goes on a classic villain monologue describing how their original plan was merely to incite a race war between masked cops and 7K members. But when the racists stormed Angela’s house in particular on the White Night, Cal was only able to save her by instinctively teleporting the attacker to the first place he could think of: Hela Flats, New Mexico. As far as evil soliloquies go, Keene’s is flawless, right down to the fact that it ends up being interrupted by a righteous hero who barges in with her guns drawn.
In truth, there’s no way that Angela could have taken on the entire 7K on her own, but she arrives with a very sensible warning rather than a desire to be involved in yet another shootout. Despite the fact that Keene and the 7K are certain their plan to steal Manhattan’s powers is foolproof, Angela points out that more than half of the contraption they’ve built to kill Cal is fashioned out of Trieu’s technology and there isn’t a way in hell she wouldn’t have foreseen them trying to ape her plan.
But these white supremacists aren’t particularly keen on taking any advice, let alone advice from a black woman, and so they turn their machine on, and a massive flash of light leaves everyone in the building dazed and disoriented.
For a moment it seems as if the 7K’s plan has worked, but in actuality, it’s revealed to be Trieu and her entire crew who’ve perfected teleportation in a way that Ozymandias never could. It’s here the episode turns Watchmen into a full-on, wild-as-shit comic book show that easily gives Doom Patrol a run for its money.
Out of a desire to let Keene see that she’s beaten him, Trieu rips open the door of the device he believed would give him Manhattan’s powers. Instead, the machine’s merely turned him into a soup of blood and human entrails. Delighted, Trieu proceeds to explain to the group of racists still seated and looking on with fear that yes, she does intend to kill them all, which she proceeds to do with a series of purple lasers—poof, they’re all ash.
Though Manhattan’s senses are dulled by the cage he’s trapped in, he can reason well enough that even with the 7K leaders eliminated, Trieu still poses a significant threat to the world. So he reaches into the pool of Keene’s blood to send a pulse of his power through it into Laurie, Looking Glass, and Ozymandias who are all teleported back to his Antarctic office.
When Laurie wonders why Cal would send them to Antarctica of all places, Ozymandias logics that it’s because he wants them to work together to save the world. But when a shocked Angela asks Cal why he didn’t send her with them, he admits a simple truth: he doesn’t want to die alone.
From the very beginning, Watchmen’s been very careful to steer clear of this kind of madcap nonsense and whiplash pacing, but here it works because of all the little weird pieces of the series that swiftly take on new significance as the action draws to a climax. Though Ozymandias is a madman, he’s never truly wanted to destroy the entire world, but that’s not to say he hasn’t thought of a few off-kilter ways he might do it.
Even though it’s almost 9,000 miles away from Tulsa, Ozymandias’ lab still has the machine that makes the daily rainfalls of baby squids. Normally, the creatures dissolve soon after hitting the ground, but Ozymandias explains that if they were to tweak the temperature of the small cephalopods, their bodies would essentially become like massive bullets raining out of the sky that would destroy everything within a five-block radius.
This isn’t at all where you’d expect Watchmen to have ended up, but in an episode where a racist man is turned into meat sauce by his own folly, and a woman enlists her cloned daughter-mother to help her take over the world, it feels perfectly appropriate.
Looking Glass ends up being the episode’s most grounded character because as unbelievable as all of this is, he’s still fixated on the fact that Ozymandias is responsible for killing millions and traumatising billions, himself included. Angela’s focus is similarly turned towards humanity as she watches Cal be torn apart for one final time and as tragic as the moment is, Cal reassures her that he isn’t just there—he’s existing in every single moment that he ever has, and focusing on the moments he spent with her.
As Trieu awaits for her clock to turn her into the world’s first blue woman, Ozymandias’ frozen squid babies begin to rain down on Tulsa, and true to his word, they’re devastating. Nearly everyone standing outside is murdered by the projectiles, and it’s only because Angela grabs a large piece of reinforced plastic and uses it as an overhead shield that she’s able to run to the nearby Dreamland theatre.
Inside, the theatre is peaceful, and Will sits there waiting for her with her three sleeping children who are all blissfully unaware of what’s going down. There, in the same theatre where Will’s world fell apart, he lost his family and found the inspiration (from Bass Reeves) to become a superhero, he finally has a chance to sit down with his granddaughter and have the kind of conversation about their lives that they’ve both been yearning to have for years.
Together, the two of them are able to reflect on their intertwined histories and emotional similarities and it leads to Angela being able to open up about all of the pain and sadness and anger she’s felt.
Will didn’t know Cal anywhere nearly as well as Angela did, but she can feel that his fondness for the man was genuine, and it pulls them together in a way that makes them feel more familiar to one another. Cal’s gone, but Angela’s family isn’t, and after all they’ve been through together, Angela knows that Will belongs at home with her, if only so they can talk about how wild his life was.
“See How They Fly” closes out by setting the stage for three of the original Watchmen comic’s most important characters. Back in Antarctica, after Ozymandias has gifted them with another Owl Ship in order to return home, Laurie makes clear just how serious she takes her job as a federal agent, and announces that she’s arresting Ozymandias for his crimes against humanity. Looking Glass has all Laurie would need to prove her story, and when Ozymandias insists that the world would fall apart if the truth about the squid got out, her response essentially boils down to: “Eh, fuck it. Let it burn.”
It’s fascinating to think of what a post-post-Squid Watchmen world might be like given what an impact on global culture the attack itself had. An entire megacorporate machine valorising the Minutemen exists in the world in the form of American Hero Story (and likely other media)—what would happen if one of the franchise’s greatest heroes was revealed to be the most deadly terrorist the world had ever known?
That’s the sort of question Angela’s too exhausted to bother pondering in Watchmen’s final scenes as she takes Will and the kids home, and briefly shows them all her “work” room. For a brief moment, you get the sense that when Topher sees his mother’s costume, he’s inspired in the same way that Will’s son was when he watched him dress up as Hooded Justice.
After Angela tucks the children into bed and begins clearing the chaos out of her home, she happens upon the carton of eggs Cal was attempting to cook with just moments before the 7K attacked. As her mind flashes back to Cal warning her to watch the floating eggs, she also recalls the night of their first date in Saigon when he explained that he could potentially pass his powers on to someone else through an organic object they consumed.
While most of the eggs are all smashed to hell, there’s one perfectly preserved in the carton still, and the next morning, she takes the egg out with her to the pool. For a brief moment, it seems as if she contemplates ensuring the world would never have another Manhattan by smashing the egg, but she then instead cracks it open, drinks it whole, and holds her foot just above the pool’s surface as the episode cuts to black.
Watchmen’s future isn’t guaranteed, but even with a tantalising cliffhanger like this one, the episode feels like a fitting end to a story that would have been far less than the sum of its parts had it led with this specific kind of tone and temperature. In typical Lindelof form, Watchmen left a number of its biggest questions unanswered.
We still don’t know who Lube Man really is, what Laurie’s ridiculously high tech dildo is actually for, or what became of Dan Dreiberg. But the chances are slim that a second season addressing those lingering plot elements could come anywhere near close to the emotional depth and complexity of season one. Then again, time will tell.